How I drive in Shanghai – Part II

After I drive back to home at 12:23 AM and check my blog, I saw many comments – comments from really concerned people. Calm down, please.

This is not the first time I saw this kind of situation. So take a break and let me try to explain it better. Shockr, thanks for your point. That helps a lot.

I Do Follow Rules

I did an evaluation, and believe I am absolutely the top 5% drivers who follow the rules most. Seriously. There is no question about it.

I reviewed my last post, and it seems I broke every rules. Wrong impression.

Believe it or not, I am the kind of person who stopped at a broken red light at deep night (11:00 PM) for 15 minutes on my way home, and later was interviewed by TV because of it … I believe I follow the rules much better than most people, including expats, in Shanghai. Don’t get me wrong about it.

I learnt a lot during my driving experience from U.S. and Australia – frankly speaking, that experience helped me a lot to under how the traffic rules should work. As you can imagine, I feel I am driving under the spotlight most of the time (as my life is on Internet, and I am trying very hard to do the right thing), so I follow the rules.

Before I continue, let me correct some misunderstanding in the comments:

  • I always yield to pedestrians, always!
  • I pass by zebras slowly and with great care, always.
  • I stop at stop sign, when it is not dangerous to do so.
  • I respect speed limit, when it is possible.

What I was trying to communicate in my previous post was, there are limited but real situations that I cannot follow the rule.

Situation #1: The rule is correct, but by following the written rule, I am putting the life of myself or other drivers at danger. (I know many people don’t believe that this situation ever exist in the world. “Follow the rules is the only safe way to do it!”)

Situation #2: The rule itself is the wrong rule.

About Turning Right at Red Light

For this part, I have to make it more clear, since I found the statement in my last post misleading. The reasons I gave (resources v.s. demand) was to justify Why it is Allowed to Turn Right at Red Light instead of Why drivers don’t give way to pedestrians. I hate drivers who didn’t show any respect to pedestrians, as a driver and as a pedestrian. That is what I was talking about in many posts. I said, it is still not practical to BAN any right turn in Shanghai as Europe is doing now. Anyone tell me why in many countries (including U.S.), it is allowed to make right turn at red light? I was a strong advocator for banning the right turn before, but after talking with transportation experts, I was convinced that it is not realistic in the current situation.

What I am talking about – in a frank matter – was, to wait for all pedestrians to leave the zebra is also just impossible at certain intersection (not all). It takes, as one commenter said, hours for the road to clear up. The most troublesome problem I have is, even if I stop, people still yield to me, and we run into a situation of dead lock. That was really bad situation. So, in this situation, the way people do is to wait for the first round of people to pass, and see the space, and then the cars go, and then pedestian.

Anyone been to Cambodia? The traffic of the whole country worked (although not well) without any traffic light! (Just a few on the road of capital). I don’t think traffic light is the only way for a peaceful transportation.

What to do with the Bad Rule?

Then there is another situation that people not driving in Shanghai may not face: when the traffic rule is the wrong rule and it causes great danger to traffic. “Is there any situation that you are not able to follow the rules?”. That is the point. Read about my last entry and find out some situations.

For the speed limit and the stop sign, I have to say, the rule or the sign were badly designed. The statement of “Always follow the rule” is incomplete, since it is in the situation where the rule is the right rule.

One commenter mentioned the Nazi example. Really good people don’t follow the rule set by Nazi, just as I don’t follow the censorship rule in China government. I break the bad rule and do the right thing. Traffic rules are completely another thing than the Nazi rules. I know that, but think about a traffic sign that is improperly designed. Just as I sad, how many minutes would you wait at a broken (always on) red light? I waited 15 minutes. How about you? 30? One hour before a broken red light? What I did was to call the police, call the media, and to make some small impact. Still remember that I called almost everyone to fight against typo in Metro? Talking is easy, as everyone in the last post did.

In current China, due to well-know political reasons, there are huge number of bad rules. To build a better world, people need to use the right rule to replace the bad rule. This is what many people are doing.

On day, when I was thought about the ethics, I even asked myself, do I want to do something to have 4 collisions per month just to proof that I follow the rules? People’s life (including mine) or rule, which is, in practice, more important? What is the final value of a rule? I completely see where people come from, and in most places, to follow the written rules means safety. If you firmly believe so, you should go to see certain circumstances that it is conflicting. Just as Google’s don’t do evil rule works great in most places, but in China, because of the Great Firewall, it is against user experience. It is a hard problem to answer, and I am deeply disappointed that Google is trying to solve user experience issue and give up it value. Hehe.

I am so blessed to be able to sit in the middle of the conflict of the two cultures (western and eastern), so most of the cultural conflict results in an inner mind conflict inside me. This gave me a chance to see the world even better.

To conclude, if you can find out any driver who show respect to pedestrians and follow rules when possible, we can drive together, and I am sure I am doing a better job than he/she does. After writing so many articles about traffic problem in Shanghai and thought about it for 4 years, I still know what to do. Just keep this in mind, and then see the real situation we are facing everyday. What I want to do is to present the real situation every driver in Shanghai will face, and thus people can understand the situation much better than what the text book tells.

Keep all the criticism coming. It seems everyone just pouring all the frustration about bad traffic to someone who stand up first and claim “I don’t always follow rules”. Don’t worry. I share the same frustration, and the point is, what we can do about it. Me? I think it is my responsibility to bring the topic to everyone’s attention so we can discuss about it.

7 thoughts on “How I drive in Shanghai – Part II

  1. JS:

    I am a daily bike rider (what this country is know for) and have trouble at every intersection. The bicycles disobey the traffic lights and the cars have NO respect. I intentionally ride towards the cars as a scare tactic to help teach the drivers here. (when I have the right of way).

    China seems to be a collective culture, they do what the other does. You have your individuality, so please don’t lose it to follow the masses. The drivers (and bicycle/moped drivers) need a serious education. Maybe the death toll will be reduced (who cares about waiting for pedestrians, when you could save 500 lives each year).

    The other day on Bai Hua Lu I saw a policeman standing near the bicycle lane. I assumed he was giving citations to the many people driving through the bicycle lane to make the 2 lane road a 4 lane road. I soon realized that he was directing the cars into the bicyle lane (forcing me out with beeps) to reduce the daily (normal( traffic build up. I have seen many Shanghai police enforcing the laws, but with actions such as this the driving public is then confused on what is wrong and what is right, making everything “right: in Shanghai.

  2. Taking about bicycle lane.

    Last time when I was in Shanghai, I saw a caucasian woman riding a bike standing in the middle of the bicycle lane stopping a column of vehicles who were using the lane as a by-pass, the woman pointed at the sign telling the drivers that the lane is exclusive for bicycle. Two drivers walked out and brushed her aside and then drove on.

    I was a passenger at the third vehicle of the same column and was embarrassing when I looked on.

  3. my husband’s condo unit is at the corner of Zhangyang lu,Pudong side where the window of his fine living room is at the right smack of those intersections… During our Christmas holiday visit, as WE (w/our kids) joyfully look on a those cars, buses, pedestrians, commuters, & bikers passes by, in just a matter of 30 minutes on that beautiful 24th of December around 8:00AM!!!, we saw 8 different cases of road accidents, on that corner alone… Imagine that!!!(that’s just early in the morning,& may even doubled the number of cases as the day draws later & rushing a up) as a mother of 3kids & came from another country w/a rather different road traffic rules, I just can’t help it & wonder, why is it that everybody wants to be at first??? It seems everybody doesn’t want to be stopped, everyone is in a hurry, everyone is honking their horns…we even saw a commuter bus, I still remember the bus # w/c is 961, hurriedly & trying to beat the yellow traffic signs blinking, isn’t it the yellow signs means to slow down, yield & be prepared for the red sign to STOP. Then, a motorcycle rider with no helmets on w/a younger child in front obviously with no protective gears too, seems not minding the traffic signs while approaching the wide intersection, even runs on a high speed, the closer it reaches the intersection the faster he drove, then making a wide right turn not minding the pedestrians awaiting to cross then suddenly losing his controls from his motorcycle, slammed into a taxi w/c at that time picking up a passenger… Oohhh, well these were just our memories of how road courtesies(?) are, be it in with a driver, a commuter, a biker, a pedestrain point of view there is in Shanghai…

  4. Looking at this in one way, it’s very complicated – most people don’t drive, it’s a cultural thing, lack of education, bad signing, authorities no enforcing rules, etc. etc.

    Looking at it another way, it really does come down to respect, and the obscene lack of it that people show to others here. Cars not just not giving right-of-way to pedestrians, but SPEEDING UP at the same time as honking their horn… lack of respect for other’s going around their business and utter lack of respect for their lives. I can feel myself getting angry as I type, it really is infuriating that people here DO put “me me me me!” before the safety of another and all others not in their circle. It’s a side-effect of the culture here, yes, but it IS a sick one, and no amount of excuse-making will make up for the fact and no amout of excuse-making will get away from the fact that China has, comparitively, extremely high road casualty rates.

    WS, banning all right-turns on reds CAN work, there is no reason it can’t. Your logic is running backwards. The, “You think it’s bad now, it’d be worse with no turns on red lights”, line of reasoning is not useful and fraught with issues – a rule that grossly endangers life is not a good rule, period. In different places it works because in those places people have respect for strangers, respect for the potential damage they can cause (a sense of consequenses, also bizzarely lacking here) and respect for the sanctity of life, for whatever reason. In fact, if anything it could improve the overall situation – cars go when they have a green, pedestrians go when they have a green, both stop when they have a red. No grey areas. People who don’t respect others rights (notice I’m not saying ‘follow the rules’) get heavily penalised.

    Anyway, like anyone else I just wish these roads were safer and people valued each other’s safety more.

  5. Amen Chas…

    In Chicago. There is a right on red law. BUT YOU HAVE TO STOP FIRST, then you can proceed if the crossway is clear of pedestrians or other vehicles crossing the intersection.


  6. Hi JS,

    You asked what is the reason for a right turn on red rule. Right on red was initially adopted to keep traffic flowing when the situation ( safety concerns and traffic ) alowed for it. No point sitting and waiting for the light to change when there are NO pedestrians in the crosswalk and NO cross traffic. I have seen the law concerning right on red in China and it translates to the same meaning as most places around the world. Right on red AFTER yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk, AFTER checking that a turn can be made safely, without intefering with cross traffic and most importantly AFTER stopping. Right on red was never meant to be used to ignore the red light. By sticking the nose of your car in front of the on coming traffic, forcing them to let you in, may help you get to where you’re going quicker, but it is not the purpose of the rule. At this point you’re infringing on the flow of traffic not helping it. Kind of defeats the purpose.

    Think of it this way: the light is red and you’re supposed to wait. If an opportunity comes to continue safely, then turn and be on your way. If the opportunity does not appear, then wait your turn and go when your light is green.

    I think Chas hit the nail on the head, it’s about respect. People in China tend to drive the same way they walk or get on the subway, selfishly, rudely and with no consideration for others. Who said before ? The “ME ME ME first” mentality. Now changing that way of thinking could take many years to fix. It’s all about education, start with the kids , they haven’t been spoiled yet.

    For the rest of us, we’ll just have to live with it. These guys aren’t getting religion anytime soon.

    PS Most people would cross at the green if they knew for sure you were stopping. At this point in time they are afraid you might be teasing them into complacence and setting them up for the kill. They don’t trust driver’s behavior yet.

  7. I won’t tell you how to drive in Shanghai because I’ve never driven there. But in my opinion, I’d say a good driver is one with good judgement. A good pedestrian is also one with good judgement. It is ideal if everyone followed the rules, but it’s not reality. JS, as long as you’re a considerate driver with good judgements, I believe you to be a good driver.

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